Prospect Profile: Ian Kennedy (#7)
Drafted: 1st Round in 2006 out of USC
Position: Starting Pitcher
Fastball: Kennedy throws a 4 seamer around 88-92 mph, although it dipped in velocity during his final year at USC. He is learning a 2 seamer down in Hawaii, which may be to blame for most of his struggles there (more on this later). "But EJ, why did we waste a 1st round pick on a guy who throws 90?". Johnny, it is pretty simple. Kennedy locates his fastball with extreme poise, ala Mike Mussina.
Changeup: Kennedy has a plus changeup, which he uses with ruthless efficiency. The changeup is essential to Kennedy's approach on the mound. He uses it to out smart the batter, with a lot of success. It is one of three pitches that he will often use to finish off a batter.
Slider: Kennedy sports an above average slider, sitting in the mid 80s. He uses it to make his changeup look a little lighter, forcing the hitter to account for harder breaking stuff. He is one of the rare pitchers who can reliably throw their slider for strikes. When it misses, it misses in the dirt, not in the zone.
Curveball: He also sports an above average curveball, which he can again use with pinpoint accuracy. The curveball gives Kennedy a third strikeout pitch, making him incredibly deadly in that department (and it showed in college, which I will get to soon).
Command: As previously mentioned, Kennedy's command is excellent. He is a very smart pitcher who learns how to get each individual batter out. He has a strategic mind not unlike that of Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina. He handles pressure extremely well. In terms of "polish", the Yankees believe that Kennedy is already far ahead of most AA prospects.
Performance: Ian Kennedy put up two of the more dominant seasons in NCAA history. In 2004 and 2005, Kennedy pitched a combined 209.2 innings. He posted a 2.70 ERA between the two years, striking out 278 and walking just 69. for a 19 and 20 year old just entering college, these numbers were monumental. He had a reputation as the best pitcher in USC history - a group which includes Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. USC also happens to face the highest level of competition in the NCAA. What happened? Kennedy had a poor - by his standards - Junior year. He posted a 3.90 ERA in 101.2 innings, striking out 102 and walking 36. He did not allow any more home runs than his freshman year, give up significantly more his, or walk a ton of batters.
2007 Outlook: Unfortunately, Kennedy signed late. He only got 2.2 innings in at Staten Island before the playoffs started. Any thought of Kennedy starting in Trenton was immediately dismissed. He will start in Tampa, where he hopefully should do very well. Kennedy went to Hawaii, pitching 30.1 innings, striking out 45, walking 11, and posting a 4.56 ERA. He allowed 27 hits. A lot of Kennedy's struggles may be due to his attempt to develop a 2 seam fastball. In addition, almost half of Kennedy's earned runs came in one game, where he gave up 8 runs. Other than that game, Kennedy had an ERA of 2.48. Kennedy still struck out over 13 per 9. Still, he will go to Tampa.
Health: A lot of speculation about Kennedy's significantly worse 2006 season has been speculation about health. This is just speculation, although it may have merit. Rumors are that his velocity dropped, although no one can specifically say that it did. I am skeptical. Kennedy pitched a lot of innings in college without arm problems. He has a pretty good health record. B.
Ceiling: Kennedy's fastball is a knock against him. If you read BA, you would think that Kennedy would be lucky to get out of AAA. I cannot disagree more. I strongly believe that Ian Kennedy is going to be a major steal in this draft. A steal in the first round? Yes. Absolutely. His fastball is average. I understand that. However, Kennedy has a ton of Maddux/Mussina in him. Hell, he even does Mussina's stretch move. You cannot ignore those college numbers. Those are crazy dominant strikeouts, walks, and ERAs. I believe that Kennedy can put up a lot of typical Mussina years - 3.40 ERA, 220 innings, 200 strikeouts, 40 walks. That doesn't look like "#4 Starter" that BA seems to have doomed Kennedy to.
Reaching his ceiling: It will be up to Kennedy to prove that his 2006 season in college and Hawaii was a fluke. I believe that he can do it. Intelligence is underrated in baseball, and Kennedy appears to have the ability to outsmart his opposition. The Yankees can also afford to take their time with Kennedy and let him learn at his pace. Maybe he'll learn a gyroball or something.
Comparison: Mike Mussina, no doubt. Like I said, he resembles Mussina in almost every way. Strikeouts. No walks. Average fastball. Lots of secondary pitches. The same strange stretch move. This is the easiest comparison on this list.
My Take: Don't write Kennedy off. If George Kontos is an example where old school scouts are dead-on toward a prospect, Ian Kennedy will be an example where the stat-heads got it right. Sometimes you cannot explain a pitcher's performance by the plus marks next to his pitches or the radar gun readings. Sometimes something is just there - and Kennedy has that something. In the words of Charles Barkley - I may be wrong, but I doubt it.